Meter failure rate
U.S. Mandated Utility “Smart” Meters at 57% Penetration — More Planned Despite Complaints, Problems, Costs and Opposition
JANUARY 7, 2021
By B.N. Frank
Utility “Smart” Meters – electric, gas, and water – aren’t necessary. However, in the U.S. they were federally mandated. Proponents promised that these meters would be beneficial to customers by lowering their bills. Unfortunately, customer rates have usually been increased for their installation AND frequent replacement (see 1, 2, 3, 4). Proponents also promised they would save energy. Reports have indicated that they DO NOT SAVE meaningful amounts of energy.
There’s more: “Smart” Meters have been extremely problematic. In addition to the higher customer bills and need for frequent replacement, there have been countless reports about them causing fires, explosions, malfunctioning and broken appliances, and health issues in people and animals (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
Warnings about catastrophic cybersecurity risks continue to be reported as well (see 1, 2). In December, more federal legislation was passed to address their vulnerability. Remember “Smart” Meters were never necessary and still aren’t. So it would actually make more sense to reduce the risk by replacing all of them with meters that aren’t “Smart.”
IoT cyber law signed amid growing vulnerabilities
On December 4th, President Trump signed the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020, which directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create standards and guidelines on the use and management of internet of things devices by federal agencies and to develop guidance on vulnerability disclosure and the resolution of disclosed vulnerabilities.
The bill could not be any more timely. Four days after the act was signed into law, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released an advisory on AMNESIA:33, a set of 33 vulnerabilities impacting four open source TCP/IP stacks which collectively serve as the foundational components of millions of connected devices worldwide. Forescout Research Labs reported these vulnerabilities.
AMNESIA:33 impacts both IoT (e.g., smart plugs, cameras, sensors, smart lights, etc.) and operational technology devices (e.g., physical access control, fire and smoke alarms, energy meters, etc.) from more than 150 vendors. These vulnerabilities can be exploited to take full control of a target device, impair its functionality, obtain potentially sensitive information or inject malicious DNS records to point a device to an attacker-controlled domain.
Vendors affected by AMNESIA:33 might have benefited from existing NIST IoT guidance. This guidance, including NISTIR 8259: Recommendations for IoT Device Manufacturers: Foundational Activities and NISTIR 8259A Core Device Cybersecurity Capability Baseline, focuses primarily on pre-market activities by the device manufacturer. Both publications seek to educate device manufacturers everywhere on making equipment that can be used safely, with improved configuration and other features for more effective management.
But what happens after the devices are purchased and deployed?
The passage of the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 means that NIST will start to address the gap in post-market guidance to help organizations adequately address newly discovered vulnerabilities in devices already on their networks.
While the bill only specifies four IoT-related topics that NIST must address (secure development, identity management, patching and configuration management), forthcoming guidance should include much more if the goal is to secure organizations from potentially insecure IoT devices.
For example, many vendors are still assessing whether they are affected by AMNESIA:33 and may not release patches immediately; some may not release patches at all. Further, because of the embedded nature of the AMNESIA:33 vulnerabilities, a traditional vulnerability scan across the network will not detect them. In developing guidance, NIST has to be mindful of situations where traditional methods are lacking and offer alternative approaches to secure organizations.
But that’s not the plan because these meters are extremely profitable. Original analog meters are only one-way transmitting, whereas “Smart” Meters are 2-way transmitting. This allows utility companies to remotely turn off services as well as ration customer usage. It also allows them to collect minute-by-minute usage data which they can analyze in order to market more products and services to customers. Utilities can also sell this data to 3rd parties (see 1, 2). This is sometimes referred to as “Surveillance Capitalism.”
Since tens of millions have already been installed –- it’s likely that they have been installed on your home and throughout your community. There has been so much opposition to these meters that legislators have taken action against them and some utilities started allowing customers to “opt out” of them. Regardless, proponents continue to endorse these awful meters.
Smart metering in US reaches 57% penetration
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) 2020 assessment of smart metering and demand response indicates continuing increasing penetration.
The report presents the latest available estimates of advanced meters in the US at December 2018 from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) at 86.8 million and from the Institute of Electric Innovation at 88 million. These correspond respectively to penetrations of 56.4% and 57.1%, based on a total of 154.1 million meters.
Approximately 8 million additional advanced meters were installed during 2018, similar to the previous year, and reflecting a continuing increase in the penetration by 4-5% annually. The EIA’s December 2017 penetration estimate was 51.9% and 46.8% at December 2016 (the Institute for Electric Innovation’s estimate which tends to be consistently higher was 47.6% at December 2016).
The figures also indicate the deployment of more than 80 million smart meters over the past decade, with FERC’s first assessment recording 6.7 million meters with a 4.7% penetration as at December 2007.
Nevertheless, there are marked differences in penetration across the country, ranging from just 6.4% in Hawaii and 12.2% in the Northeast Power Coordinating Council region to 92.8% in the Texas reliability region.
There also are differences by customer class but in 2018, the estimated penetration for each of the three classes, residential, commercial and industrial, rose above 50% for the first time.
— will likely be obsolete by the time they are re-verified as required by the federal agency Measurement Canada every six to 10 years.”
IRS Rules Certain Smart Meters Can Be Depreciated over Five (5) Years
A follower of this website forwarded me a link to a 2012 IRS National Office Technical Advice Memorandum which provides favorable tax treatment for what would appear to be today’s version of a programmable, networked, 2-way communicating smart meter, referred to as “Meter 2” within the IRS Memorandum.
Specifically, smart meters (as Meter 2) have “a class life of 6 years” based upon a determination that they fall within the classification of an “information system.”
Although most traditional meters do not have advanced functionality, they expose consumers to few if any risks, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) properly described them as “an amazing of piece of engineering work” as previously reported in a separate article at this website. More fully, EPRI stated:
“By anyone’s assessment, traditional electromechanical meters are an amazing piece of engineering work. Refined over a hundred years, the design of a standard residential electricity meter became an impressive combination of economy, accuracy, durability, and simplicity.”
In addition, as Mr. Gaines stated, the current traditional meters could be expected to last 20 to 30 years. The Auditor General for Canada mentioned a 40-year lifetime.